Monday, March 09, 2009

"The Class": Reality high school "drama" in a tough neighborhood in Paris

The Class” (“Entre les murs” or “Between the Walls” [website]), directed by Laurent Cantet, from Sony Pictures Classics, is a “reality” drama of the efforts of a young male teacher in a tough, mixed neighborhood in Paris. Francois Begaudeau, the teacher, wrote the book and script, and is played by Francois Marin. He’s interesting personally because he writes novels, and so he doesn’t live just through the success of his students.

Nevertheless, this is definitely a movie about the “culture” of teaching in difficult environment. Most of the film (shot in full 2.35:1) takes place in his “French” subject classroom (where French has the role of English as a subject) with 15 year olds, with scattered meetings with the other teachers and administrators, as well as, after a crisis, with parents of a kid from Mali about to be expelled. The curriculum comprises grammar and literature, just like American high school English, and there is a particularly interesting lesson about the subjunctive mood, which I remember from French class in ninth grade!

There is one scene that addresses the French or European "educational track" system where students are put on vocational tracks relatively early if they don't perform academically. Teachers meet in session to discuss individual student performance and vote on disciplinary action. The scene reminds me of president Obama's call (Tuesday) that every American complete at least one year of education beyond high school.

Another big issue is maintaining classroom discipline. The young teacher is pretty fluid with this, at one point fending off ambiguous quips that he himself is gay (with many students from Muslim culture). Another time, he gets a female to issue an acceptable apology, and the school principal makes a lot of the respect required when an adult enters the classroom. The film makes a lot of the fact that the teacher needs to function as an authority figure.

I did have issues with discipline and functioning as a “role model” and authority figure when I was a substitute teacher.

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